Intersections: The Influence of the 'Decadent West': Discourses of the Mass Media on Youth Sexuality in Indonesia Workers
Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 18, October 2008

The Influence of the 'Decadent West':
Discourses of the Mass Media on Youth Sexuality in Indonesia

Claire Harding

      Television, the most popular form of media, has spread poisonous sexual desires to all corners of the country. Teenagers are able to access pornographic magazines and tabloids with ease...So don't be surprised if sexual offences and crimes are widespread throughout Indonesia...Youth behaviour grows more and more depraved, 'making out' in public places (on public transport, the bus, on the sidewalk, at bus stops, in shopping centres and so on) without feeling ashamed...What will become of the generation following this one? It's a nightmare.[1]
      - Abu Al-Ghifari
  1. The sexual and reproductive health (hereafter referred to as SRH) of Indonesian adolescents is of growing concern for many parents, religious leaders, education providers, policymakers and other groups within Indonesian society. The effects of socio-economic change, modernisation and globalisation have resulted in more freedom and autonomy for Indonesian youth, and many are becoming increasingly liberal in their attitudes, ideas and behaviours regarding sex and sexuality.[2] A combination of biological, attitudinal and behavioural changes have contributed to an increased likelihood of premarital sex among contemporary Indonesian adolescents.[3] This is evidenced by, for example, the increasing number of pregnancies, abortions, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV/AIDS[4] cases among unmarried adolescents in Indonesia.[5] This is of great concern because it indicates not only that many Indonesian adolescents are changing their attitudes toward sex and sexuality, but that these changing sexual behaviours are risky. In a review of 22 NGO adolescent reproductive health programmes in Indonesia, Inga Mepham discovered that 'youth appeared to be involved earlier and partaking more often in high-risk sexual behaviour than their target youth of previous years.'[6] Various other in-depth and micro studies show that considerable proportions (between 10 and 60 per cent) of Indonesian adolescents are engaging in premarital sexual activity.[7]
  2. Nonetheless, there remains a lack of comprehensive SRH information, education and services available to Indonesian youth, such that they are often left with little choice but to seek answers to their SRH queries from questionable sources, including the mass media. Because society does not provide them with the adequate resources needed to negotiate their increased exposure to 'Western' or global ideas concerning sex and sexuality, Indonesian youth unknowingly place themselves at risk of the various outcomes associated with unsafe sexual practices.
  3. This article focuses on how the increase in 'deviant' sexual behaviours among Indonesian youth is often seen to be the result of the importation of 'Western' sexual mores that associate seks bebas[8] [lit. free sex] with individual freedom and morality. Prior to exploring this matter, it is worth first mentioning that terms such as 'the West' and 'the East' inevitably reduce vast, heterogeneous, complex and diverse regions into manageable but falsifying unities. These essentialised terms ignore the heterogeneous nature of Western and Eastern societies and create a 'semantic artifice' which has encouraged us to think in terms of the contrasting of East and West in some eternal, transcended opposition.[9] Nevertheless, for the purposes of this article, these terms will be employed because the term 'the West' [Barat] is used extensively throughout Indonesia to refer to that which is understood to originate 'from the West,' such as seks bebas. It is important to note that this understanding often relies on a simple association rather than any empirical basis. In this article I use single quotation marks to indicate Indonesian perceptions of the West; these are not necessarily the West's actual traditions.
  4. The perceived influence of 'Western' liberal sexual mores on the sexual behaviours of Indonesia's adolescent population is causing a kind of 'moral panic' to occur among Indonesian religious and cultural preservationists, who fear the moral destruction of Indonesia's youth.[10] This perceived threat has been magnified during recent decades, partly due to the impact of globalisation and the revolution of information technology, enabling both 'Western' and other global cultural products to enter Indonesian society with increased ease. Images of explicit sex and pornography, for example, are now available through popular mass media. In order to better understand this tendency to equate 'non-traditional/deviant' adolescent sexual behaviours with 'Western' constructions of sexuality, this article examines some ways in which various Indonesian authors and publications represent the 'West' and 'Western' SRH behaviours. Using examples from Islamic buku panduan [guide books], popular teen magazines, family planning posters and state laws, this article reflects upon current discourses on youth sexuality in Indonesia. I argue that instead of providing adolescents with accurate, timely and comprehensive information on SRH, the dominant prohibitive discourse in Indonesia denounces youth sexuality as unhealthy, and efforts are made to discourage youth sexuality through scare tactics.

    Indonesian Perceptions of Globalisation and 'Western' Sexual Mores
  5. Over the last three decades, Indonesia has undergone significant economic and social development which has led to increased access to advanced technology and mass media, and more consumer power for youth. This has enabled Indonesia to interact more with the outside world and 'Western' cultures. However, while advances in technology and communications that are perceived as 'coming from the West' are often viewed positively and readily accepted by Indonesian society at large, many 'Western' cultural influences are regarded as a major threat because they are seen as incompatible with traditional Indonesian cultural and religious values. Some sectors of Indonesian society believe that if Indonesian adolescents lose their 'high eastern values' to 'immoral western values,' particularly those associated with seks bebas, the country will be morally colonised.[11] Consequently, globalisation, as a symbol of cultural Westernisation and therefore moral degradation, is commonly seen as one of the biggest threats facing Indonesian adolescents today.
  6. Amien Rais (former Speaker of Parliament and leader of the National Mandate Party, PAN), in his book Moralitas Politik Muhammadiyah [Muhammadiyah Political Morality], states that:

      Vying for Indonesia's adolescents is a long term obligation of Islamic teaching. Our children and adolescents are an invaluable asset. We have to save them from the erosion of faith caused by the invasion of non-Islamic values which seep into the heart of various Islamic communities in Indonesia. If our children and adolescents have a strong fortress (al-hususn al hamidiyyah) in this era of globalization and information, if God is willing, then our future will stay pure.[12]

    Words such as 'seep' and 'invasion' in the above quotation refer to globalisation as an uninvited, unwelcome and menacing force that threatens to take over local cultural and religious values. The battle imagery used to describe the destructive nature of globalisation implies that it is a form of war in which adolescents and Indonesians in general must be prepared to fight. I argue below that the notion of being on constant guard against the evil influences of globalisation, especially in regards to liberal interpretations of sex, is a common theme used in sources on SRH for Indonesian youth.
  7. Adolescents are singled out as being susceptible to the 'moral intrusion' of the West due to their tendency to imitate current trends and ideas made popular in Western pop culture and entertainment.[13] From my own observations, fashions, dating styles, films and television programmes, pop music, fast foods, mobile phones, expensive cars, the English language[14] and activities like frequenting cafés and shopping at malls, are all immensely popular among the Indonesian youth of today, and perceived as 'Western,' even if locally produced. Furthermore, the adoption of 'new' sexual practices by Indonesian adolescents is widely regarded as the emulation of 'Western' sexual norms. Most noticeably, many middle-class young people in cities like Jakarta have become less inhibited when expressing public affection towards the opposite sex, to the point that holding hands, hugging and even kissing in public areas is not uncommon.[15] Additionally, in Jakarta since the late 1980s, the media has picked up on the phenomenon of student prostitutes, girls who sell their virginity to sugar-daddies for a high price and girls who have sex just for fun.[16]
  8. Easy access to fragmented and explicit information on sex and sexuality via the Internet and international mass media has enabled the construction of a discourse of seks bebas for young Indonesians, particularly in metropolitan areas. However, this newly emerging sexualised youth culture, with its increasingly liberal attitudes towards active sexuality, unequivocally contradicts the dominant public discourse which upholds conservative notions regarding sexuality. Many cultural and religious preservationists blame globalisation (which is perceived as being Western) for enabling such practices to permeate the public sphere and to be held up as desirable. Interestingly, Indonesian free-to-air television is particularly conservative in regards to material considered sexually explicit. Simple kissing or hugging scenes between members of the opposite sex rarely escape censorship, due to notions that sex-related material is not compatible with Indonesian cultural values. Nevertheless, the Indonesian government is unable to monitor other forms of media, such as satellite television and pirated VCDs/DVDs, so there are other options available for those who seek images of explicit sex.
  9. The current discourse that associates 'Western' society with sexual immorality is reflected in many readily available forms of popular culture. In particular, Islamic buku panduan, teen magazines and tabloids aimed at adolescent readers who are seeking answers to questions on sex and sexuality, have become popular new genres in Indonesia. They are readily available on the street, at university markets, regular bookshops and in shopping malls, so can be purchased by a significant proportion of Indonesian adolescents.[17] Nancy Smith-Hefner notes that:

      Casual observation of any of Yogyakarta's many book stores reveals groups of young men milling around the 'health' sections paging through medical texts, sexual advice books...and Muslim guides to sex and marriage...Written from a male perspective, they instruct men in such things as foreplay and identifying their wife's erogenous zones, offering tips on technique and positions.[18]

    The aforementioned books are intended to be read solely by those who are married or preparing to marry, but this is often not the case.
  10. An example of the buku panduan literature is Gelombang Kejahatan Seks Remaja Modern [A Wave of Sex Crimes amongst Modern Teenagers] by Abu Al-Ghifari. Al-Ghifari describes how 'Western' attitudes are able to 'contaminate' [menular] the East because the Western media is dominating the flow of information.[19] Although Al-Ghifari is supportive of taking on board 'Western' advances in technology, in his opinion, the moral freedom adhered to in 'the West' is causing the 'moral destruction of a generation.'[20] He describes a 'Western' world in which teenagers behave like animals and constantly engage in morally depraved sexual activities such as group orgies.[21] Al-Ghifari advises Indonesian adolescents to pay no attention to 'Western' moral beliefs, especially in regards to seks bebas, and to 'arm themselves with religious education as early as possible.'[22]
  11. This depiction of 'Westerners' as a homogeneous whole lacking in religious and moral values is a common theme in Indonesia. In another example of buku panduan literature, H. Dadang Hawari, an Indonesian doctor, psychologist and author of the book Aborsi [Abortion], explains how 'Western,' particularly American, teenagers tend to be devoid of ethical and religious morals. Hawari emphasises how, 'as a group, adolescents are most at risk' of submitting to inappropriate Western values.[23] Accordingly, Indonesian adolescents are singled out as susceptible to falling prey to 'immoral' sexual practices. The deployment of words such as 'moral destruction,' 'morally depraved,' and 'contaminate' in the above quotations is an intimidation tactic used to discourage Indonesian youth from engaging in premarital sex. The 'Western way of life' is held up as a model of 'what not to do.'
  12. However, premarital sex and extramarital sex are neither new concepts in Indonesia nor exclusively Western in origin. As Indonesian sociologist Julia Suryakusuma points out:

      Indonesians deplore the influence of pergaulan bebas Barat (liberal Western social norms) which in essence means socializing too freely among the sexes, leading to pre and extramarital sex and other immoral practices. Why they [i.e. the practices] should be pinned so specifically on the West is strange, as Indonesia has its own indigenous brand of pre and extramarital sex. As such, it appears to be a way of projecting Indonesia's own permissiveness and immorality on the dominant West.[24]

    Shifting the blame for behaviours regarded as morally deviant onto Western culture is a process of Othering the West that becomes a way of positioning Indonesia as holding the moral high ground. The explicit ascription of the West as animal-like, morally depraved, associated with images of disease and illicit contamination (seeping) does not require any description of Indonesian society. Identity theory reveals how the epistemological dichotomy of Self/Other means that by default Indonesians are inherently moral and well-behaved.[25] They only succumb to 'deviant' sexual practices when 'contaminated' by the immoral 'West.'
  13. Discourses of intimidation and suppression can also be found in many Indonesian publications dealing with youth sexuality. The frequent emphasis on the moral aspects of sex in Indonesian teen publications fits within the dominant prohibitive discourse that denies and denounces youth sexuality as abnormal and unhealthy. An article entitled 'Terapi Membasmi Fantasi' [Tips to Suppress Fantasies] in Muslimah (a glossy and rather expensive magazine aimed at Indonesian Muslim youth), for instance, equates sexual fantasies with a 'foul virus' [si virus ngeres] capable of 'poisoning one's mind' [meracuni pikiran kamu].[26] This sort of terminology crops up repeatedly in countless publications which attempt to highlight the perceived dangers of sex and sexuality for adolescents. Another article, 'Pokoknya Tolak Pornografi dan Pornoaksi' [It is Vital to Oppose Pornography and Pornographic Acts], in a recent edition of Annida, another popular but cheaper and more modest Muslim teen magazine, uses words like 'disaster' [bencana] and 'contaminating' [berkontaminasi] to describe pornography and premarital sex.[27]
  14. In another example of panduan literature, M. Bukhori, the author of Hubungan Seks Menurut Islam [Sexual Intercourse According to Islam], describes zina—a term commonly used in the Qur'an and Islamic writings to describe illicit sex between a man and woman[28]—as 'the most dangerous type of illness.'[29] Associating youth sexuality with 'illness' and 'contamination' is a way of inciting fear in Indonesian adolescents so that they are not tempted to engage in 'devious' activities like premarital sex. The Indonesian authors of the buku panduan entitled Free Sex Isn't My Choice! (English words original) state that, 'zina is the direct cause of dangerous STIs like syphilis, gonorrhoea and AIDS' an 'irresponsible act which is only appropriate for animals' and 'can result in murder...broken homes...pregnancy and fatherless children.'[30] By continually emphasising the disastrous outcomes of premarital and extramarital sex, adolescents may learn to fear not only zina, but also their own sexuality and sex in general.
  15. Masturbation is rarely offered as a means of avoiding premarital sex, because it is still regarded as 'approaching zina' and therefore sinful. Whilst none of the publications analysed explicitly state that masturbation is medically harmful, they do not acknowledge that masturbation is normal, pleasurable or widely practiced. Afifah Afra and Ibnu Hadiy, for example, use fear-inducing tactics to discourage adolescents from masturbating:

      Medically there is nothing wrong with masturbation, except that intense feelings of guilt will cause psychosis. Furthermore, psychological and spiritual problems can impact greatly on the sexual capacity of males you know! For example, impotency...and the majority of other sexual abnormalities are caused by psychological problems.[31]

    By equating masturbation with the inevitability of mental illness, these writers clearly aim to install fear into young people. This discourse of prohibition which informs teenagers that masturbation is abnormal and offers little in the way of practical advice, only serves to confuse and intimidate some Indonesian adolescents.
  16. Despite all the warnings about the devastating consequences of premarital sex, these publications rarely (if ever) offer information on contraception for adolescents. This is particularly troubling given that condom usage and knowledge is very low among Indonesian youth. For example, a recent study of 2,341 men and 1,815 women aged 15 to 24 years in Indonesia, found that of the young men surveyed, only 4 per cent of 15 to 19-year-olds and 7 per cent of 20 to 24-year-olds had used condoms at the time of first sexual intercourse.[32] Instead, Free Sex Isn't My Choice! simply advises adolescents that the easiest way to avoid contracting an STI is to 'not approach zina.'[33] The aforementioned phrase originates from a verse in chapter 17 of the Qur'an which states, 'And go not nigh to fornication; surely it is an indecency and an evil way.' This verse is interpreted very literally by a large number of Indonesian Muslims and used over and over again in various Indonesian Islamic publications on SRH.[34]
  17. When confronted by a teenager who reveals that s/he wishes to engage in premarital sex, Afra and Hadiy advise him/her to 'resist your desires! Only those who are married may have sex, because if's counted as zina.'[35] Meanwhile, Nina Surtiretna, an Indonesian doctor and author of the Islamic buku panduan entitled Remaja dan Problema Seks [Teenagers and Sex Issues], tells adolescents to focus on 'useful things like studying, holding discussions with friends or increasing sporting activities to counteract thoughts which will lead one closer to zina.'[36]
  18. Youth sexuality is repeatedly portrayed as something dangerous that should be conscientiously suppressed. This idea is also illustrated in the publications of various family planning organisations in Indonesia such as the Indonesian Planned Parenthood Association [Perkumpulan Keluarga Berencana Indonesia or PKBI].[37] Posters which carry messages like 'Don't Make an Issue Out of Something Which is Not Already a Problem: It's Not OK for Teenagers to Have Premarital Sex' and 'Resist the Urge [To Have Sex],' again reflect the dominant discourse of prohibition and suppression of youth sexuality. PKBI has explained that the strong emphasis on discouraging Indonesian adolescents from engaging in premarital sex is due to the absence of contraceptives for unmarried youth. The Family Welfare Law, UU No. 10/1992, states that family planning services are only to be made available to married couples and the abortion law—Health Law UU No. 23/1992—states that abortion is illegal. However, whilst PKBI has pragmatic rather than ideological reasons for telling adolescents to avoid premarital sex, 'this pragmatism still coincides with religious beliefs and state policy (which both prefer to limit family planning and reproductive health services to married couples), supporting the same principle.'[38] The predominant message being conveyed is that youth should subjugate their sexuality and exercise self-control.
  19. According to these publications, sex is only permissible within the bonds of matrimony and based on religious observance. If teenagers can no longer control their 'volatile sexual desires,' the final suggestion given in the magazine article 'Terapi membasmi fantasi' [Tips to suppress fantasies] is to 'Marry immediately!'[39] If teenagers still want to engage in sex but are not prepared to marry, they are offered a number of 'solutions' including:

      Don't even get close to things which will make you fall into the trap of zina, like dating, pornographic films, porno pictures and so on...Lower your gaze when you're around the opposite sex, be careful not to look at that which is forbidden by Islam! Do not let your eyes wander...Study religion as much as possible...Keep busy doing useful things...Pray as much as possible, recite the Qur'an and sanctify yourself with spiritual activities.[40]

    Indonesian adolescents are persistently reminded to suppress all sexual desires and strengthen their faith in order to counteract the sexual excesses of modern society, particularly those which are perceived as coming from the 'morally decadent Western' world.
  20. As discussed earlier, adolescent premarital sex is not uncommon in Indonesia. This implies that efforts to suppress youth sexuality are not always successful. Furthermore, Indonesian adolescents are increasingly exposed to conflicting values on sexual behaviour: whilst they report a strong attachment to religious beliefs which do not condone sex outside of marriage, they are simultaneously subjected to 'Western' and local influences which are more lenient about sex and sexuality. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that young people in Indonesia are left to formulate their own understandings of SRH based on informal sources such as the media, due to the paucity of information within educational settings. (SRH has been systematically ignored by successive Indonesian governments and SRH education is yet to be included in the national school curriculum). As a result, accurate and timely SRH information remains unavailable to the majority of Indonesian adolescents. This policy gap has deprived Indonesia's adolescents of much-needed support and information at a time when they are most in need of it.

    Impact of Local and Global Television and Cinema on Indonesian Youth
  21. Television is one of the main forums through which Indonesian adolescents are exposed to both general and sex-related information concerning 'Western' lifestyles. Successive Indonesian government regimes have attempted to tightly control the media, viewing expressions of sexuality as damaging to the nation's morals, national culture and national development.[41] This was particularly apparent in Suharto's New Order period of government (1966-1998). One of the ways in which Suharto attempted to retain Indonesian national culture (and unity) was to restrict the import of foreign, particularly Western, television programmes containing material deemed incompatible with Indonesian social and cultural values.[42] Since the 1980s, new television technologies have forced the Indonesian government to accept the fact that Indonesia could no longer be closed off from exogenous cultural processes, pressures and influences. The government's television monopoly was eventually replaced with a more open broadcasting regime that enabled private entrepreneurs to play a greater role. Today, television is arguably the principal mass medium of culture transfer for Indonesian adolescents.
  22. At present, Western movies and television programmes are broadcast daily in Indonesia and account for a significant number of television hours watched by the populace. The music television station MTV frequently airs raunchy Western music clips, Hollywood films and American reality television shows, which have proved to be very popular among Indonesian youth. In addition, many Indonesian homes now boast huge satellite dishes, making it possible for teenagers to tune into countless Western satellite broadcasts. This is significant because Western films, programmes and music clips play a dominant role in shaping adolescents' understandings of 'Western' attitudes, tastes and behaviours in relation to sex and sexuality. A Western audience generally understands that Hollywood films and television shows often portray unrealistic representations of Western lifestyles for entertainment purposes. However, the majority of Indonesian adolescents are not exposed to the everyday realities of Western culture and so are more inclined to unquestioningly believe what they see on television. Therefore, it is not surprising that many Indonesian adolescents harbour misconceptions and distortions about 'usual' behaviour in the West, particularly when it comes to Western sexual practices. These misconceptions are epitomised in comments and questions I repeatedly heard in Indonesia, when people learned that I am Australian. Teenagers often asked how many boyfriends I have both in Indonesia and Australia, as it is commonly assumed that Westerners have multiple sexual partners at the one time.
  23. In regards to locally produced television programmes and films, the more relaxed broadcasting regime has enabled a number of topics still considered sensitive or socially taboo in Indonesia, such as homosexuality, premarital sex, extramarital sex and drugs, to be broached. In 2004, for instance, Indonesian producer Hanny R. Saputra released a film called Virgin (English words original).[43] This film portrays the sexual lives of three 16-year-old high school girls in Jakarta; the major theme focusing on the issue of virginity as a commodity and its significance in contemporary Indonesia. Although censors allowed public screening, the film's sensitive subject matter and its target adolescent audience saw Virgin vigorously opposed by those who believed it would encourage Indonesian adolescents to engage in premarital sex.[44]
  24. Buruan Cium Gue [Kiss Me Quick] is the title of another 2004 Indonesian movie depicting a controversial teenage love story.[45] Unlike Virgin, it was quickly withdrawn from cinemas after complaints that the film's title alone encourages young people to commit zina.[46] These reactions demonstrate the moral panic associated with the issue of adolescent sexuality. Furthermore, whilst Indonesia may now have a more open broadcasting regime, material considered sexually explicit (including partial nudity or kissing scenes) continues to be heavily censored on Indonesian television.
  25. Despite the persistence of selective and indeed, often arbitrary, censorship, other sources of information on sex continue to be readily available to Indonesian adolescents. The cheapness and ease of duplication of VCD discs for example, has enabled Indonesian adolescents' easy access to popular culture products such as pop music and Hollywood films, and also pornography. Thomas Barker's analysis of several locally-produced hardcore VCD pornographic films involving Indonesian adolescents, explores the common misconception that such films 'are a direct result of Westernisation' and 'another example of how Indonesians are adopting Western norms and values in regards to sex and pornography.'[47] Although pornography is obviously not solely Western in origin, in Indonesia it does tend to be seen as a 'symbol of Western culture to the many Muslims who believe globalisation aims to destroy their culture.'[48]
  26. Bandung Lautan Asmara [Bandung Love Ocean] and Medan Lautan Asmara [Medan Love Ocean] are pornographic films featuring Indonesian youth contravening prevailing mores by engaging in premarital sex. Barker notes that, 'the shock for the Indonesian public is that they confirm that the youth do engage in premarital sexual relations and seemingly without remorse or concern for prevailing norms of society.'[49] The New Order government frequently blamed the intrinsic lack of discipline of young people for society's declining morals and the rise of pornography. However, since the fall of the New Order, youth continue to be construed as both the agents and victims of immorality in society.[50] This contradictory stance, whereby adolescents are treated as both perpetrators and victims of 'immoral' sexual behaviours, further confuses an already complex situation.
  27. Meanwhile, Indonesian youth are increasingly engaging in different forms of sexual behaviour and finding their own sources of information, independent of government, religious and national organisations.[51] Pornographic material in the form of magazines, comics, books, DVDs/VCDs and computer games, are all readily available at a low cost, through unregulated pirated materials sold on the street.[52] Although pornography is illegal in Indonesia, it can easily be obtained in public places like bus terminals, train stations, street stalls, video rental stores, and at internet cafés. This is problematic given that the above types of media often form the central basis of Indonesian adolescents' understanding of sex and sexuality. Meanwhile, studies indicate that comprehensive and accurate SRH education actually reduces adolescents' interest in pornography, such that they are less inclined to seek out pornography as a source of information or entertainment.[53]
  28. Various studies indicate that many Indonesian adolescents are increasingly liberal towards sex and often use pornography as a substitute for their lack of formal SRH education.[54] What is of even greater concern is that sexual practices depicted in pornography contain conventions characteristic to the industry rather than to everyday life.[55] This means that Indonesian adolescents who are not instructed on healthy, safe sexual practices are more likely to unknowingly engage in risky or harmful sexual behaviours as a direct result of viewing such material.
  29. The recent explosion of illegal pornographic consumption among Indonesian adolescents has become a growing concern for the Indonesian government.[56] An Anti-Pornography and Pornographic Acts Draft Bill (RUU APP),[57] which was originally drafted in 1999, was debated again, with considerable heat, during 2006.[58] Supporters of the Bill[59] say that it is needed to both preserve traditional cultural and religious values and to protect the innocence of Indonesian children and teenagers from negative outside, particularly 'Western,' influences. The publication of the first Indonesian edition of Playboy magazine on 7 April 2006 also fuelled the growing debate over pornography and its harmful effects on Indonesian adolescents, even though the final product proved to be a very toned-down version of the original American Playboy. Playboy Indonesia does not feature any full nudity, unlike much of the other, brazen, locally-made pornography, yet it continues to encounter a great deal of opposition from those who believe it represents a symbol of Western decadence.[60] Muslim leaders have even gone so far as to call Playboy a form of 'moral terrorism,'[61] thus adding to the moral panic about Western decadence eroding Indonesian culture and morality.

  30. Strict anti-pornography laws and television censorship will not prevent 'Western' cultural influences from entering Indonesian society; neither will they lessen adolescents' interest in pornography and foreign trends. In this increasingly global world, Indonesian youth will continue to consume pornography, Western/foreign films and programmes via satellite television, magazines, pirated VCDs/DVDs and the Internet. It is how they decide to interpret such information that should be of concern. They need to be able to differentiate between healthy, pleasurable sexual behaviours, and those which are harmful or exaggerated for the purposes of entertainment or profit. While the majority of publications dealing with youth sexuality, such as Islamic buku panduan, popular teen magazines and family planning posters, remain limited to moralising/religious messages on the dangers of premarital sex, the health and futures of Indonesian adolescents continue to be put at risk. Relying on religious indoctrination and the use of scare tactics may cause some Indonesian adolescents to fear sex and their own sexuality. Others may not be fazed by such tactics and proceed to engage in premarital sexual activities, despite a lack of knowledge on the importance of safe sex. Meanwhile, scape-goating the West only serves to reinforce harmful stereotypes and foster misunderstandings.
  31. The current approach to adolescent SRH in Indonesia must be challenged and re-evaluated to ensure that the SRH needs of Indonesian youth are met. At present, adolescents are being left to formulate their own (often incorrect) understandings about sexuality, and free to practise unsafe sex. Policymakers, parents, religious leaders, education providers and other stakeholders such as the media, writers and publishers have a crucial role to play in addressing adolescent SRH. The provision of accurate, timely and comprehensive SRH education, information and services will both equip and empower Indonesian youth to make responsible and well-informed decisions about their SRH. After all, the SRH decisions that Indonesian adolescents make today will affect the health and well-being of their country and of future generations for decades to come.


    [1] Abu Al-Ghifari, Gelombang Kejahatan Seks Remaja Modern [A Wave of Sex Crimes amongst Modern Teenagers], Bandung: Mujahid Press, 2001, pp. 13–14. In this article, Indonesian language terms are written in italics. The first time a term is introduced, it is followed by a brief English translation. All translations are my own, unless otherwise stated.

    [2] This article focuses on the changing, more liberal sexual behaviours and attitudes found among many adolescents in Indonesia today. However, there also exists a growing illiberal and conservative discourse among some, more hard-line, Islamic youth. Smith-Hefner notes that 'Western studies of Indonesian Muslims have tended to overlook the emergence among young middle-class Indonesians of a new, more self-consciously Muslim sexuality.' See Nancy J. Smith-Hefner, 'Reproducing respectability: sex and sexuality among Muslim Javanese youth,' in Review of Indonesian and Malaysian Affairs 40(1) (2006): 143–72, p. 144.

    [3] These changes include delay in age of first marriage, earlier onset of puberty, increase in urban migration, rise in numbers of young women and men living apart from their families (for education or employment), and influence of media. See Kathryn Robinson and Iwu Dwisetyani Utomo, 'Introduction,' in Review of Indonesian and Malaysian Affairs 37(1) (2003): 5–17; Adolescent Reproductive Health in the Asian and Pacific Region, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, 2006, URL:, site accessed 5 June 2007.

    [4] In 2005 alone, 3,513 new HIV/AIDS cases were reported in comparison to 1,844 in 2004. The majority of those affected are between 15 and 29 years of age. See Ditjen P.P.M. & PL Depkes R.I. (Directorate General C.D.C. & E.H. Ministry of Health, Republic of Indonesia), Statistik Kasus HIV/AIDS di Indonesia Dilapor s/d Maret [Cases of HIV/AIDS in Indonesia Reported Through March], 2008, URL:, site accessed 12 October 2008.

    [5] Reproductive Health and Reproductive Rights, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), 2003, URL:, site accessed 6 September 2006.

    [6] Inga Mepham, A Review of NGO Adolescent Reproductive Health Programs in Indonesia, Consultancy Report Prepared for STARH Program, Johns Hopkins University/Center for Communication Program, Jakarta, Indonesia, 2001, URL:, site accessed 7 May 2007, p. 2.

    [7] For specific data please refer to, among others, Rini Dwi Astuti, Maesur Zaky, Supri Cahyono & S. Dermawati, 'Pengetahuan kesehatan reproduksi dan perilaku seksual remaja SMP di desa dan kota (Reproductive health knowledge and sexual behaviour among adolescents in urban and rural junior high schools), Bening 5(2) (April 2004): 1–5; Badan Pusat Statistik & ORC Macro, Indonesia Young Adult Reproductive Health Survey 2002–2003, BPS-Statistics Indonesia & ORC Macro, Calverton, Maryland, 2004, URL:', site accessed 3 May 2007; Demographic Institute, Baseline Survey of Young Adult Reproductive Welfare in Indonesia 1998/1999, The University of Indonesia's Demographic Institute, Faculty of Economics, University of Indonesia, Jakarta, 1999; Hasil survei BKKBN Jabar di kabupaten 38.65% remaja lakukan seks [Results from a NFPCB survey in Jabar province indicate that 38.65% of adolescents have had sexual intercourse], Pikiran Rakyat Cyber Media, 2002, URL:, site accessed 5 May 2007; Augustina Situmorang, Adolescent Reproductive Health in Indonesia, Consultancy Report Prepared for STARH Program, John Hopkins University/Center for Communication Program, Jakarta, Indonesia, 2003, URL:, site accessed 12 October 2008; Synovate Indonesia, Sexual Behaviour Study of Youth in Four Main Indonesian Cities: Jakarta, Surabaya, Bandung, Medan, Report prepared for DKT Indonesia by Synovate Indonesia, Jakarta, 2005; Tito (Pusat Studi Seksualitas - PKBI), 'Potret remaja dalam data' [Portrait of data on adolescents], Harian Kompas, 3 August 2001, p. 38; Iwu Dwisetyani Utomo, Adolescent Reproductive Health in Indonesia: Status, Policies, Programs and Issues, Policy Project, STARH Program, 2003, URL:, site accessed 3 March 2007.

    [8] Seks bebas is a term commonly used throughout Indonesia today. It describes the various forms of sexual activity that take place outside the ties of formal marriage, including premarital and extramarital sex, prostitution and homosexual relationships. See Linda Rae Bennett, Women, Islam and Modernity: Single Women, Sexuality and Reproductive Health in Contemporary Indonesia, New York: Routledge, 2005.

    [9] See J.J. Clarke, Oriental Enlightenment: The Encounter between Asian and Western Thought, London and New York: Routledge, 1997.

    [10] The term 'moral panic' originally coined by sociologist Stanley Cohen in 1972, refers to the way in which the media coverage surrounding the clash between the Mods and Rockers in the 1960s in the United Kingdom created mass panic about deviant youth. See Stanley Cohen, Folk Devils and Moral Panics, London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1972. 'Moral panic' is now commonly understood to refer to the exaggerated or false perception about a group of people who are thought to be dangerously deviant, or a threat to society.

    [11] Suzie Handajani, 'Globalizing local girls: the representation of adolescents in Indonesian female teen magazines,' Masters Thesis, Perth: The University of Western Australia, 2005, p. 51.

    [12] Cited in RB. Khatib Pahlawan Kayo, 'Problematika dakwah masa kini,' in Majalah Tabligh, Dakwah Khusus 1(12) (July 2003), URL:, site accessed 2 September 2006.

    [13] Nuraini Juliastuti has identified a 'generational movement' among Indonesian youth who found legitimation in bringing down Suharto in 1998, but in losing their political relevance, have found identity in lifestyle, pop culture, fashion and trends as expressions of self, freedom and their youth. See Nuraini Juliastuti, 'Whatever I want: media and youth in Indonesia before and after 1998,' in Inter-Asia Cultural Studies 7(1) (March 2006): 139–43, p. 142.

    [14] Handajani notes how English words in teen magazines have become naturalised and in many cases are inseparable from Indonesian teen language. Handajani, 'Globalizing local girls,' p. 121.

    [15] Iwu Dwisetyani Utomo & Peter F. McDonald, 'Middle class young people and their parents in Jakarta: generational differences in sexual attitudes and behaviour,' in Journal of Population 2(2) (1997): 169–201.

    [16] See, for example, 'Kupu-kupu kampus biru' [Blue campus butterfly], Sinar, Jakarta, Indonesia, 23 November 1996, pp. 60–65; 'Menyelidik lebih jauh seks pager mahasiswa' [Looking further into student pager sex], Popular, Jakarta, Indonesia, August 1994, pp. 42–46.

    [17] Buku panduan can be bought for between Rp. 10,000 and Rp. 25,000, whilst tabloids commonly cost between Rp. 4,000 and Rp. 6,000 (at the time of writing the current exchange rate for the Indonesian rupiah (Rp.) was around Rp. 7,000 to the Australian dollar ($AU1.00)). Popular glossy teen magazines can be purchased for roughly Rp. 10,000 and the cost of Islamic teen magazines ranges from Rp. 8,500 to Rp. 15,000. Although such publications can be regularly purchased only by select groups of Indonesian adolescents, they are often handed down from richer to poorer readers. Out-of-date issues sell for considerably reduced prices so they still enjoy fairly wide circulation.

    [18] Smith-Hefner, 'Reproducing respectability,' p. 162.

    [19] Al-Ghifari, Gelombang Kejahatan Seks Remaja Modern, p. 64.

    [20] Al-Ghifari, Gelombang Kejahatan Seks Remaja Modern, pp. 113 & 110.

    [21] Al-Ghifari, Gelombang Kejahatan Seks Remaja Modern, p. 111.

    [22] Al-Ghifari, Gelombang Kejahatan Seks Remaja Modern, p. 113.

    [23] H. Dadang Hawari, Aborsi: Dimensi Psikoreligi [Abortion: The Psycho-Religious Dimension], Jakarta: Fakultas Kedokteran Universitas Indonesia (University of Indonesia, Faculty of Medicine), 2006, pp. 46–47.

    [24] Julia Suryakusuma, Sex, Power and Nation: An Anthology of Writings, 1979–2003, Jakarta: Metafor Publishing, 2004, p. 59.

    [25] For further reading on contemporary understandings of identity theory and the constructions of 'Self' and 'Other,' please see, among others, Stuart Hall, 'Who needs an identity,' in Questions of Cultural Identity, ed. S. Hall & P. du Gay, London: SAGE Publications, 1996, pp. 1–17; Amin Maalouf, In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong, New York: Penguin, 2003.

    [26] Ika & Mila, 'Terapi membasmi fantasi,' [Therapy for eradicating fantasies], in Muslimah 48 (July 2006): 52.

    [27] Dee, 'Pokoknya tolak pornografi dan pornoaksi' [It is vital to oppose pornography and pornographic acts], in Annida 6(15) (February–March 2006): 18–19.

    [28] Bennett notes that, 'in dominant interpretations of Syariah [Islamic canon law], zina is...understood to include...rape, incest, extramarital affairs, prostitution, premarital sex and statutory rape, and homosexual relationships.' See Bennett, Linda Ray, 'Zina and the enigma of sex education for Indonesian Muslim youth,' in Journal of Sex Education, 7(4) (November 2007) (in press).

    [29] M. Bukhori, Hubungan Seks Menurut Islam [Sex According to Islam], Jakarta: Bumi Aksara, 2001, p. 92.

    [30] Afifah Afra & Ibnu Hadiy, Free Sex Isn't My Choice!: Bincang-Bincang Soal Seks, Cinta dan Reproduksi—Seri Pendidikan Seks untuk Remaja [Speaking about Sex, Love and Reproduction—Sex Education Series for Teenagers], Surakarta, Central Java: Mandiri Visi Media, 2004, pp. 76 & 77.

    [31] Afra & Hadiy, Free Sex Isn't My Choice!, p. 44.

    [32] Badan Pusat Statistik & ORC Macro, Indonesia Young Adult Reproductive Health Survey 2002–2003.

    [33] Afra & Hadiy, Free Sex Isn't My Choice!, p. 109.

    [34] See, among others, Afra & Hadiy, Free Sex Isn't My Choice!, p. 76; Al-Ghifari, Gelombang Kejahatan Seks Remaja Modern; Hawari, Aborsi, p. 23; Nina Surtiretna, Remaja dan Problema Seks: Tinjauan Islam dan Medis [Teenagers and Sex Issues: From an Islamic and Medical Perspective], Bandung, Indonesia: PT Remaja Rosdakarya, 2006, p. 67.

    [35] Afra & Hadiy, Free Sex Isn't My Choice!, p. 76.

    [36] Surtiretna, Remaja dan Problema Seks, p. 56.

    [37] For further analysis of the SRH messages that other family planning organisations like the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Indonesian National Family Planning Board (BKKBN) provide Indonesian youth, please refer to Brigette M. Holzner & Dédé Oetomo, 'Youth, sexuality and sex education messages in Indonesia: issues of desire and control,' in Reproductive Health Matters 12(23) (2004): 40–49.

    [38] Holzner & Oetomo, 'Youth, sexuality and sex education messages in Indonesia,' p. 43.

    [39] Ika & Mila, 'Terapi membasmi fantasi,' p. 52.

    [40] Afra & Hadiy, Free Sex Isn't My Choice!, pp. 81–82.

    [41] Thomas Barker, 'VCD pornography of Indonesia,' Paper Presented to the 16th Biennial Conference of the Asian Studies Association of Australia in Wollongong, 26–29 June 2006.

    [42] Robinson & Utomo, 'Introduction,' p. 7.

    [43] Virgin [Film], directed by Hanny R Saputra, Jakarta: Kharisma Starvision, 2004.

    [44] See, for example, Swara Muslim, 2002, URL:, site accessed 20 July 2006.

    [45] Buruan Cium Gue [Kiss Me Quick] [Film] Jakarta: Multivision Plus Pictures, 2004.

    [46] See 'Controversial teen movie pulled from cinemas,' Sunday Times, 2004, URL:, site accessed 20 July 2006.

    [47] Barker, 'VCD pornography of Indonesia,' p. 7.

    [48] Mark Forbes, 'Navel gazing ruled out as Indonesians button up,' The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 February 2006, URL:, site accessed 2 July 2006.

    [49] Barker, 'VCD pornography of Indonesia,' p. 8.

    [50] Lutfan Muntaqo, Porno: Definisi dan Kontroversi [Porn: Definition and Controversy], Yogyakarta (Central Java): Jagad Pustaka, 2006, pp. 4–5.

    [51] Holzner & Oetomo, 'Youth, sexuality and sex education messages in Indonesia.'

    [52] The most famous area in Indonesia to buy pornography is Glodok in Jakarta, where sellers openly tout their wares. In Yogyakarta, Central Java, pornographic films can be rented at DVD/VCD rental stores for between Rp. 5,000 and 10,000 (equal to between AU$0.70 and $1.40 in 2006).

    [53] Alia Dyah Rahmani, 'Efektivitas pendidikan seksual terhadap ketertarikan menikmati media pornografi pada remaja' [The effectiveness of sexual education on Indonesian adolescents' enjoyment of and interest in pornography], Masters Dissertation, Yogyakarta (Central Java): The Faculty of Psychology, Wangsa Manggala University, 2005.

    [54] Please see, for example, Iwu Dwisetyani Utomo, 'Sexual values and experiences among young people in Jakarta,' in Coming of Age in South and South Asia: Youth, Courtship and Sexuality, ed. L. Manderson and P. Rice, Richmond: Curzon, 2002, pp. 207–27, p. 219; Laurike Moeliono, Sexual Risk Behaviour of Out-of-School Young Males in an Urban Slum: A Case Study of Duri Utara, Jakarta, Poster presented at IUSSP Regional Population Conference, Bangkok, Thailand, (10–13 June 2002), URL:, site accessed 3 June 2007, p. 8.

    [55] Laura J. Bellows, 'Like the West: new sexual practices and modern threats to Balinese-ness,' in Review of Indonesian and Malaysian Affairs 37(1) (2003): 71–104, p. 86.

    [56] See, for example, 'Government takes aim at pornography indecency,' Jakarta Post, 16 July 2006, URL:, site accessed 3 May 2007.

    [57] To view the content of the proposal (in Indonesian), please go to: 'Draft RUU APP,' JIWAMERDEKA, 2006, URL:, site accessed 31 July 2006.

    [58] See, among others, Forbes, 'Navel gazing ruled out as Indonesians button up'; Rachel Harvey, 'Playboy sparks Indonesian porn row,' BBC NEWS, 7 February 2006, URL:, site accessed 10 October 2006.

    [59] The Bill was not only supported by more hardline Islamic groups such as the Indonesian Muslim Clerics Council (MUI), the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and the Islamic Forum (FUI), but also many members of the general public not aligned with the aforementioned affiliations. See Pandaya, 'The naked truth on the misguided pornography bill,' The Jakarta Post, 2 March 2006, URL:, site accessed 15 July 2006.

    [60] See, for example, Forbes, 'Navel gazing ruled out as Indonesians button up'; John Aglionby, 'Jakarta struggles with the politics of pornography as Playboy comes to town,' Guardian Unlimited, 30 January 2006, URL:,,1697987,00.html, site accessed 20 July 2006.

    [61] Sam Knight, 'Playboy's Indonesian edition enrages-and disappoints,' Times Online, 2006, URL:,,25689-2123556,00.html, site accessed 3 July 2006.


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